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issue: 02/01/2000

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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Bagombo Snuff Box - Uncollected Short Fiction
by Kurt Vonnegut

reviewed by Josh Frank

There is a justifiable tendency to be wary of leftovers. When a record company digs up a collection of unpublished Beatle songs 30 years after the group stopped making music, one may be cautious, questioning whether there was a reason these songs never saw the light of day in the first place. When Putnam decides to put out a collection of Kurt Vonnegut short stories forty years after they were printed in magazines, one may wonder why these particular stories have never been put into book form before, especially since another collection of Vonnegut's short stories was published decades ago.

One would be half-right and half-wrong in holding back with this particular collection. Half-right, because this is not Vonnegut's best work, but half-wrong because though this may not be his best work, it is still very good. The fact that it is not Vonnegut's best material is something he readily admits in brief commentaries both at the beginning and at the end of the book. According to Vonnegut, many of these stories were created and sold while he was still perfecting his craft. He also points out that it is unfortunate that today there is no possibility of anyone making a living as a writer while perfecting one's craft (making a living as a writer once the craft is perfected is difficult enough). But at the time Vonnegut wrote these stories, television was not the main medium of entertainment, and stories were in heavy demand by major magazines.

Most of the stories have aged well, though a few may seem dated. For example, given what we know about the earth's outer atmosphere, it is difficult to suspend disbelief enough to temporarily accept that ghosts inhabit the area surrounding the Earth as Vonnegut proposes in his story "Thanasphere". One or two other stories develop ideas that are now overused, though they were not at the original time of publication.

Only two of the stories could really be classified as science fiction. One of these, "2BR02B", takes the idea of population control to the extreme and is among the best in the collection. The others in the collection are well-done story telling of life in the 1950's which are usually humorous, well-written, and often include a bit of a surprise twist at the end. Some of the surprise twists can be seen coming a mile away, but that may be because we in this age have heard and watched too many stories too many times. Or maybe Vonnegut intends to give the punchline away early. In his introduction, he advises writers to give readers as much information as soon as possible, "too heck with suspense," he says.

He may be right, for the most part the stories in this collection are thoroughly entertaining even if you can see where they are heading. To heck with suspense.

Josh Frank welcomes your comments on this review.


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